Commentary: Ralph Nader wants to save us all from college football

There are political nuts everywhere. You have them on the right with Hank Williams Jr. making “dumb” comments about the president. You have them on the left with Ralph Nader wanting to save America from college football.

Of all the evils in America, one hardly ranks college football amongst them. However, Ralph Nader sees evil and wants to save America’s universities.

“If you get rid of the athletic scholarship, you deflate a lot of the problems,” Nader said in a story at the San Jose Mercury News website. “Education is a secondary concern at big-time programs. Exploitation is the inevitable outcome.”


Right. Giving a student a chance at a college education is exploitation.

College athletic scholarships often go to help persons in disadvantaged backgrounds. These scholarships help people who otherwise would not get help. It diversifies the student body. It supports the university’s mission by creating a connection between the college and the community its serves.

How are these bad things?

Nader insists college football serves our baser instincts.

According to the report, “Society’s attention to athletics, Nader said, has moved people down what he called the ‘sensuality ladder,’ a theoretical scale of people’s interactions with the world. Nader compared athletics to fast food, which ‘turns the tongue against the brain.’”

The tongue against the brain? Sounds like Socrates’ comparison of rhetoricians and philosophers. Rhetoricians are like a cook who provides food that tastes good but may not be good for the body. Philosophers are like a doctor who provides less tasty but loaded with nourishment food. The trick is finding out which is good and which is bad.

Nader offers nothing that would support his attack on football except this: “Society’s path down the ladder is reflected in the fact that universities pay football coaches more than professors and that UC Berkeley alumni were more concerned about the elimination of the baseball team than the university’s role designing nuclear weapons, he said.”

So, we pay entertainers more than teachers. That is just an amazing revelation. Perhaps pay has something to do with the marketplace—a marketplace that judges scarcity and prices accordingly. Honestly, there are more doctors of philosophy running around than qualified football coaches.

As for Berkeley’s role in designing nuclear weapons, perhaps alumni were more interested in baseball because the Cold War has ended. There is less fear of these weapons because there is less of a chance they might be used. The world has changed, but Nader has not.

This failure to change makes Nader a dinosaur.

College football is entertainment, but it fits within the broader mission of the university. Athletics links the college with fans, and fosters diversity. Football fosters donations to the academic mission of the university, and here in the South, football often runs a surplus at the big institutions helping support Title IX sports and academic scholarships.

There is a lot wrong with college football, but it isn’t hurting America’s colleges and universities. It is helping.